Denis Hutchinson grabbed six birdies.

Grant Winter

IF THERE was a competition to determine who South Africa’s most popular and most loved professional golfer is, chances are that “Hutchie” would get the nod.

“Hutchie”, of course, is Denis Hutchinson who turned 80 on Wednesday. And to celebrate his birthday a pro-am was staged at his home club, Royal Johannesburg & Kensington, on the West Course that he is so fond of, with a who’s who of South African golf – including his great friend Dale Hayes – in attendance.

Born in the then Rhodesia on March 14, 1932, Hutchinson took to golf like a duck to water and in 1959 famously became the last amateur to win the South African Open, triumphing over Gary Player at Royal Johannesburg.

A distinguished amateur career was followed by a similar- ly distinguished pro career and his 11 professional titles included the 1970 SA PGA, 1966 French Open and four Dunlop Masters.

And an outstanding term in the paid ranks has been followed, for the last 20 years or so, by a stellar career as a top-class television commentator on the game he is so knowledgeable and passionate about. Both at home in SA and on the European Tour, he has become known as “The Voice” of golf.

“Hutchie” is also an excellent coach, a raconteur of note and – perhaps above all – a wonderful man. It’s said he never has a bad word to say about anybody, and there’s a good deal of truth in that.

As a golfer he can’t remember how many holes-in-one he’s had but he thinks it might be 18, and – for the last dozen years or so – he’s matched or broken his age something like 55 times.

And while being a top golfer requires plenty of dedication and discipline, “Hutch” has always, when it comes to Scotch whisky, enjoyed more than just a wee dram over the years – as fellow commentator Trevor Quirk gleefully told the guests at a post-round dinner party on Wednesday. Quirk, not exactly teetotal himself, told of how – while caddying for Denis on the European Senior Tour, he took him to a pub where the proprietor proudly claimed they had 750 different malt whiskies to sample.

Trevor says Hutchie’s eyes lit up, before he exclaimed: “Stop me when I get to number 375!”